Sheikh Jackson (2017)

Sheikh Jackson (2017)

Egyptian cinema delivers a refreshing antidote to Hollywood’s limited view of Muslims with this thoughtful reflection on religion and pop culture

7.8

Movie

Egypt
Arabic
Drama
2017
AMR SALAMA
Ahmed Al Fishawy, Ahmed Malek, Amina Khalil
94 min

TLDR

If nothing else, this is probably the only movie about a Michael Jackson-obsessed imam you’ll ever see.

What it's about

An imam is forced to grapple with his conflicted identity when his favorite childhood singer passes away.

The take

Michael Jackson’s death triggers the sudden unraveling of a young imam’s buttoned-up life in this idiosyncratic Egyptian character study. The news of the singer’s passing sets Khaled (Ahmed El-Fishawy) straining against reawakened memories of his youth as a mullet-sporting MJ fanatic, before his joyful creative spark was stamped out by two disparate forces: a mocking, macho dad who punished Khaled for his vulnerability and the conservative uncle who took him under his wing.

Sheikh Jackson mostly takes place across two intertwining timelines: Khaled’s free-spirited adolescence and his adulthood, which has so far been defined by a self-flagellating, fire-and-brimstone brand of Islam. These two strands form a neat illustration of the binary options Khaled was led to believe he had to choose from — but, as the movie’s title hints, he might not have to choose at all, a revelation that doesn’t come easy because it flies in the face of everything he’s been taught. Free from the judgemental impulses of Western cinema when it comes to characters like Khaled, Sheikh Jackson is both an introspective portrait of the universal struggle of defining one’s own identity and a refreshingly nuanced look at how that experience might play out in the modern Arab world.

What stands out

As far as stand-out scenes go, there is only one real contender. As Khaled’s traumatic childhood memories come flooding back, hallucinations begin to plague him — especially when he’s in the mosque, which becomes a site of great anxiety for him as unfounded guilt bubbles up. Khaled’s confusion reaches a dizzying crescendo in an unforgettable moment of delusion, during which congregants at a group prayer in the mosque suddenly break out into a performance of Jackson’s Thriller dance. There are movie scenes we’ve seen a million times before, but this isn’t one of them.

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